“To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th,” tweeted Trump via his official account, which no longer exists.
Many inside the White House were hearing the President’s thoughts on this important and historic issue definitively for the first time – including his wife, according to a senior White House staffer.
First lady Melania Trump has spent the last several weeks operating inside a gray area of what might happen, with many big decisions such as this one made at the whim of the man to whom she is married.
Until that tweet, the White House staffer said, Melania Trump was not 100% sure she would be going to Biden’s inauguration, or wouldn’t be.
“It’s not the first time she has learned what he was doing because he tweeted it before he told her,” said the source, who downplayed the significance of the first lady being delivered news about what is ostensibly her schedule too, based on Trump’s mood that particular day.
The staffer, like many, was clear that the event with the tweet did not solicit their sympathy for the first lady.
“She’s part of this. She can be silent, but she’s part of this,” the source said.
“This” being the recent activities of the President, the denial of his loss, the complicity of inciting inflamed supporters with lies and conspiracy theories, and the abject abdication of an official role. The outgoing first lady hasn’t done anything of significance as the weeks of her tenure come to a close. She hasn’t established an office for continuing her platform in the post-White House years, according to a source familiar with her activities. Nor has she helped with the onboarding of incoming first lady Jill Biden – with whom she has still not made contact, the source said.
The only thing Trump has done, besides pack the White House, work on photo albums of her time as first lady and oversee photo shoots of a rug and decorative items, is make a convoluted statement about the events of last Wednesday, five days after they occurred.
“There’s never been any first lady as stubborn and defiant as Melania Trump,” says Kate Andersen Brower, author of “First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies.” “I think she’s digging in. I think she has channeled her husband’s fury and is obviously not interested in playing the traditional role of a first lady who, in times of crisis, seeks to unite and soothe the country.”
Instead, she has stood by the President, something she hasn’t always done before in times of turmoil. In her Monday morning statement, Trump did not mention her husband’s name, nor did she indicate he should receive an iota of responsibility for the insurrection.
Instead, she appeared to lift parts of old statements and speeches into this new one, and added in a paragraph painting herself as a victim of a former staff member’s continued criticism. Trump’s reclusive manner has, at times, churned up public curiosity about just how aligned she is with the President, particularly when he’s being criticized. Her hand swats, steely eyed visage and frequent outbursts of independent opinion crafted a possible scenario for critics of her husband that perhaps she was not like him, or even, did not like him.
But if the last few weeks have proven anything, it is that she is more aligned with the President than most would assume.
“She understands her husband and what he stands for, and it simply does not bother her,” said Brower. “She is not a victim and she will not leave the White House apologizing for her husband’s behavior.”
Trump ‘not sad to be leaving’
As the President publicly railed against the election, fraudulently claiming it was rigged and clinging to the false hope of staying in the White House, his wife was packing up their things to move out, say multiple sources who have observed Trump’s activities since late November.
The first lady is now more than halfway done with the job of shipping belongings either to Mar-a-Lago or to storage, having bit-by-bit overseen the moveout for weeks. The residence staff has had to help with the semi-clandestine operation, facilitating packing logistics without raising the ire of the President, who truly believed he would be staying put.
The residence staff stay on in their roles, many through several administrations. It does not matter who the President is, it matters only they represent the American presidency.
“They are the most patriotic people I’ve ever met,” said Brower, whose first book was “The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House.” “They have been going ahead with the move, but they had to do some of it undercover because they do not want to upset (President) Trump.”
Melania Trump’s expediency in getting packed and ready to go also signals her desire to be done with Washington and the last four years of dramatic highs and lows.
“(Melania Trump) is not sad to be leaving,” said one White House official with knowledge of Trump’s mood.
That’s one place she differs from her husband – he wants desperately to stay, she’s cool with going.
“Pat Nixon is the most recent example I can think of of a first lady who compares at all to Melania Trump,” said Brower, but perhaps only in circumstance, not action.
“As Watergate raged on, Pat Nixon spent lots of time sequestered in her room alone in the Residence. Butlers brought her breakfast and often she would only drink the coffee. People around her grew concerned about her health because it was obvious that Watergate was taking a toll and she was losing weight,” the author said.
Those who have been around Trump in the last two weeks have not noted a demeanor shift to isolation and sadness, in fact it was Trump’s lack of emotional connectivity to the terrifying riots that unfolded live on television, and her lack of desire to issue an immediate response or condemn the violence in real time, that prompted two of her longest staffers to submit their resignations effective immediately, sources said.
“Usually the first lady of a one-term president comes to his side publicly. President Ford served less than a full term and Betty Ford actually stepped in to read his concession letter to Carter when he lost in 1976,” Brower said.
On Wednesday, an announcement was made that Blair House, the historic official guest house of the White House where several Presidents (including Trump) have stayed overnight before their swearing-in, would welcome Biden to stay as well. CNN has previously reported Biden, without an invitation yet extended to him by the President and first lady for Blair House, intended to stay at a hotel on Inauguration eve.
But the invitation was not sent at Melania Trump’s insistence.
“She had nothing to do with it,” said the staffer. The invitation may have read “White House,” but it was issued via the State Department, whose Office of the Chief of Protocol oversees Blair House’s management.